4 July, 2018. Now that my June travels have ended, numerous people have said things like “What are you up to now?” and “Must be nice to be off all summer long.” As it happens, I report back in just a few weeks so I am using every spare minute to sketch, draw, or paint. Once I’m back in the classroom, opportunities to do so will be stretched very thin for a while.
Sometime back – around a hundred days ago or so – I set myself a goal of creating 100 small gouache paintings in 100 days. I didn’t make that goal, but the point in doing so was to learn the media. And I’m feeling more and more confident as I continue to experiment with color palette, technique, and papers. Most recently I’ve been working on small color studies to explore ways to respond to light and shadow.
These are rather liberating in one sense: because the focus is on combination of color, the stress of representation is off.
A few weeks ago I wandered into a gallery and was surprised to discover they were selling work from some of my favorite artists: Thomas Hart Benton, Andrew Wyeth, and Wolf Kahn, to name but a few. I’ve admired Kahn’s use of color immensely and the experience of standing in front of his monumental canvases, just soaking in the color, prompted me to begin these color studies. I want to be cautious that his influence isn’t too strong – I’d rather not wake up one day only to discover what I’m doing is simply derivative. But it’s fun and interesting, and intellectually stimulating all at the same time.
Nearly all of my recent color explorations have been in gouache. This has changed the way I’ve been approaching my sketchbook stuff: rather than working directly with a pen, I’ve been composing with pencil first to nail down shapes and proportions.
This allows me to create an inked line drawing as a second step, with time to deliberately plan out the large black negative areas that I love to incorporate into my sketches. The drama and impact of these shapes is important to me and important to composition. This also allows me to work faster in the field, because the third and final step is getting done later on.
“Later on,” because I want to ponder how color will affect the way each composition gets “read.” I am trying to take advantage of the three values: black ink, white gel pen ink, and gray of the paper, while at the same time purposely selecting areas of color painted in gouache. The effect is interesting because there are areas that are rendered that contrast with areas that are flat. It feels to me as if the space is being redefined by the lines, color, and the choice to leave some of it untouched.
There’s also a sort of storybook character to these illustrations, and that narrative quality intrigues me to no end.
I said nearly all of my color work had been made with gouache, but earlier this week I felt like working on something large. So I got out my butcher tray and watercolor kit, a couple of really big brushes, and a full sheet of Arches. This particular scene from Menemsha has been in the back of my mind for a couple weeks now – no idea why. I don’t feel like the watercolor, regardless of the scale, does it justice and may take another stab at it. This one feels to me like a study rather than a finished piece.